Want to get happy? Check out these tips backed by scientific studies.
What’s the point of work, family, exercise, reading, watching movies, and waking up in the morning? What’s the point of living, anyway?
We may be aspiring for career success, family values, or personal growth. The point is always the same: being happy.
We all know the basic rules of being happy: don’t worry, manage stress, figure what you want and work for it. However, the journey towards happiness is never as simple as it seems. We turn to spiritual teachers, self-help books, and how-to articles. How about science? It’s time to accept tips backed by scientists.
Neuroscientists know what people need to get happy. Let’s see if we can follow their advice.
1. Be Grateful
Gratitude is one of the best personal qualities we can have. It’s the ability to show appreciation for all things in life. Researchers from the University of Southern California used fMRI brain imaging to study the effect gratitude had on us.
The scientists found that when the brain felt gratitude, it activated the areas responsible for important feelings: fairness, moral cognition, reward, self-reference, and economic decision-making.
By showing gratitude, we maintain the cycle of healthy social behavior. But our relation to society is not the only reason for being grateful. This behavior can become our natural antidepressant. When we acknowledge the things we’re grateful for, we boost the production of serotonin and dopamine – the neurotransmitters that act like antidepressants.
Practicing gratitude can become our daily ritual. Its effects are backed by neuroscience!
2. Practice Mindfulness
Every single website and magazine dedicated to health and wellbeing tells you the same thing: meditate and practice mindfulness if you want to get happy. Sceptics would tell you that’s vain talk. Neuroscience, however, will tell you something different: mindful meditation is not placebo. Brain scans showed different activity in the brain during meditation than the one caused by placebo.
So what exactly is mindful meditation and how can it make you happier?
It’s the practice of conscious awareness of the moment. You sit in a comfortable position, so your body won’t be an obstacle. You close your eyes and focus on the breath. You monitor the primary sensation you’re experiencing, but you’re not allowing the thoughts and emotions to pull your focus away.
Neuroscience shows that this type of meditation increases the gray matter in different areas of the brain. Through regular practice, mindfulness improves our focus, compassion, empathy, and the ability to recognize and control emotions.
3. Get In Control of Your Choices
Every single minute of our lives is marked by decisions. Will you have a glass of water or coke? Will you continue reading this article or will you switch to Facebook? You’re constantly making decisions. Each choice, no matter how random it seems, affects your wellbeing.
When you’re aware of the decisions you make, you are creating intentions and setting goals. That process is crucial for breaking bad habits. A study by Swiss researchers showed that the activity of the prefrontal cortex was increased when people made decisions through self-control, but all other decision-making processes as well.
Okay, these are facts from neuroscience. How can you use them to get happy?
Be aware of all decisions you’re making. It’s not necessary to make all the right decisions. You only need to make them good enough. Instead of being a perfectionist, you can reduce stress by recognizing the ‘good enough’ moment. With that behavior, you’re still in control of your decisions.
4. Give Names to Your Feelings
There are some days when you can’t get happy no matter how hard you try. There’s something bugging you, and you can’t identify that feeling. That confusion is preventing you from being mindful and grateful throughout the day.
In a study named Putting Feelings into Words, the scientists monitored the emotional reaction of people when they were watching pictures with human facial expressions. The amygdala, the part of the brain that makes us feel emotions, was activated with each picture. When the participants named the emotion, however, they consciously reduced the impact of that emotional reaction.
This study confirms what we already knew: suppressed emotions steal your happiness. When something is eating you inside, think: what is it? How do you feel? Sad? Angry? Worried? Whatever it is, you have to recognize that feeling, so you will deal with it. The mere recognition gives a signal to your brain, so it will immediately act to reduce the impact of that emotion.
5. Connect with People
Neuroscience shows that people are programmed to make connections with others. We connect with other people not just physically, but on subtler levels as well. That connection is called resonance, and it’s the foundation of emotions like love and empathy.
Are you too busy to connect with friends and family? If you’re spending your days working, you may lack social connections in your life. Loneliness – that’s makes you profoundly unhappy.
Try to reconnect with your close ones as much as possible. That emotional resonance will boost your mental health.
Happiness Is a Lot of Work
It’s natural to be worried. However, it seems like our thoughts are so consumed by worries that we leave no time for happiness. We need happiness in our lives, but we have to work for it. Neuroscience confirms what we already knew: we need to take action for our brain to send the right signals.
To sum things up, these are the things we need to do to get happy:
- Show gratitude for what we have,
- Practice mindfulness,
- Make good enough choices,
- Recognize our feelings, and
- Connect with people.
When you feel sad, anxious or depressed, you need to recognize the feeling and do something to change it. Science proves it: action is not pointless. You’re the one who creates your own happiness.
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